When the Texas Constitutional Convention of 1875 took up a petition from Sarah G.W. Hyatt of Denton County, the debate centered less on a woman’s desire to vote than on a woman’s ability to petition her government.
Hyatt was a 37-year-old transplant from Ohio and the wife of Dr. L.B. Hyatt. The Hyatts had no children of their own, but had taken in an infant orphan. Sarah Hyatt also was a state leader in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, an organization that knew if the prohibition of alcohol was to ever pass, it would require the votes of women.
With a goal ultimately of banishing demon rum from the land, “Mrs. S.G.W. Hyatt” petitioned the Constitutional Convention for the right of Texas women to vote. On the morning of Monday, Oct. 4, 1875, the men of convention took up the debate – not about women’s suffrage but about the right of a woman to petition the convention.
Delegate Ebenezer L. Dohoney of Paris, an ardent supporter of women’s suffrage and prohibition, presented Sarah’s petition to the convention at a “legitimate application of Democratic principles.” He described Hyatt as “an industrious authoress (who) has written some poetry.”
Marion Martin of Navarro County objected: “With all due respect to the women of this country, and considering the fact that we are now in the fifth week of the session and going slow…I move to reject the memorial.” Martin added that if “the discussion of the right of a woman to a husband, a new bonnet, a baby, and a cradle was to be injected into the Texas Constitution, there was no knowing when they would finish their work.”
Congressman John H. Reagan told the convention the Hyatt petition should be accepted “respectfully.”
Dohoney added that “the right of petition cannot be questioned.” Backing him up was another advocate of women’s suffrage, William T.G. Weaver of Gainesville. “I am the last man in the house to consumer the time of this body, but, sir, it is a great infringement upon the rights of citizens, as well as an offense against common gallantry to deny the right of petition to an American woman.”
Slightly cowed, Martin withdrew his motion to reject the petition outright. But Grayson County physician William Blassingame renewed it, saying he was “not prepared to drag down the wives, sweethearts and mothers of the country into the slums and ditches of politics. We must always look up to them.”
John W. Whitfield was outraged that the convention was even discussing a woman’s right to vote.
“I doubt about the writer being a genuine Southern woman. They don’t write such stuff. It sounds to me as if it came from a more northern latitude,” Whitfield said. “While I respect women – God bless them all! – in this matter it don’t seem to me to sound right. It appears to me to come from Yankeedom. I am certain it is from Yankeedom.”
An anxious Marion Martin rose again to speak: “We sit here from month to month, the people looking anxiously for grave and important results. What will they think when tomorrow it is flashed all over the state by the wires that we are engaged in discussing women’s rights?”
Dohoney asked the convention to vote down the motion to reject the petition and have it referred to the committee on suffrage. He said the “humblest citizen” has the right to petition the government, and “opposition to the measure advocated in a petition was no justification of a refusal to hear a petition sent up in a respectful manner.”
The motion to reject the petition was lost by a vote of 32 to 41. Sarah G.W. Hyatt’s memorial for women’s suffrage in Texas was sent to the Committee on Suffrage, never to be heard from again during that convention.
This account was pulled together from the Debates of the Convention of 1875 and from reporters in the Weekly Democratic Statesman, Oct. 7, 1875, and The Galveston Daily News, Oct. 8, 1875.